Hundreds came, résumés in hand, looking for the thing that has eluded them for weeks, months, even years — a job.
More than 450 people attended the annual Employment Development Department Veterans Job Fair to shake hands and fill out applications with 27 area employers.
Potential employers ranged from Pacific Southwest Container to the Transportation Security Administration, Modesto, American Medical Response and Panda Express.
The free event was open to the public and honored veterans with a color guard ceremony to kick off the day.
Job seekers like 50-year-old Darren Schafer dropped off résumés. Despite the tight job market, he was optimistic about finding work. "I talked to some good people and got some good tips from them," said the Modesto resident, who had his last full-time job 16 months ago. "It's good to touch base with people and network."
Looking for work alongside him was 27-year-old Alfredo Pulido. The Modesto Junior College student worked part time at the college during the semester but was looking for summer employment.
Like Schafer, Pulido felt good about his chances despite the high jobless rate. In March, Stanislaus County hit 19.2 percent unemployment, its highest since 1993.
"I think I have a lot of potential and experience," Pulido said.
Almost all the businesses at the event were hiring.
O'Reilly Auto Parts (formerly Kragen) had some 500 openings to fill for its new Stockton warehouse. The company has been flooded with more than 3,000 applications.
Company recruiters said even though competition is fierce, people who approached them at the fair seemed genuinely excited that O'Reilly was hiring at all.
"It gives them a sense that they are able to get something," said O'Reilly supervisor Umendra Singh. "A lot of people even said they were willing to take pay cuts."
EDD manager Jesse Villa said both attendance and employer participation were up this year from last year.
"It's high, but that means people are still looking," he said. "I think people are feeling more confident now, especially when they go to a job fair and see that there are actual openings out there."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.